Nevertheless I gave it a go.
Because of the panel’s specific focus and the nature of the festival audience—and to try to make the task slightly more manageable—I concentrated specifically on what could be fairly unambiguously defined as science fiction as opposed to fantasy, on the written word rather than movies and television series, and on novels rather than short stories. Since the festival was aimed at writers of speculative fiction, I looked for patterns in what was big in the science fiction of today—what was hitting the bestsellers lists and what was winning awards.
So what big trends did I uncover? There were four.
While the literary establishment has recently discovered cli-fi and bestowed a sense of worthiness on it, Climate Fiction has, of course, been around for some time as part of the science fiction landscape. Australian author George Turner wrote the quintessential cli-fi novel well before it was a recognised subgenre of science fiction. His The Sea and Summer (The Drowning Towers in the US) was set in a world where global warming had resulted in a Melbourne landscape that was largely underwater. It was published in 1987 and won the Arthur C Clarke Award and was nominated for a Nebula.
Climate Fiction is making an impact in the major SF awards. Out of the six Hugo Finalists for Best Novel this year, two were clearly cli-fi: New York 2140, by Kim Stanley Robinson and The Stone Sky, by N K Jemisin (technically science fantasy). Other major Climate Fiction novels in recent years include Margaret Atwood’s Maddaddam and Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Water Knife. Three recent Aurealis Awards Finalists also fall into the category: Clade by James Bradley, Lotus Blue by Cat Sparks, and Daniel Findlay’s Year of the Orphan.
The New Space Opera is still fun on a grand scale, set in space, exciting, fast-paced, but it’s also usually more scientifically rigorous, more literary, has more emphasis on character development, and addresses social issues of race, gender, class and postcolonialism. The term was coined in the 2007 anthology The New Space Opera edited by Gardner Dozois and Jonathan Strahan. Notable novels that fall into this subgenre are Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice winner of the 2014 Hugo Best Novel, Kameron Hurley’s The Stars Are Legion, Yoon Ha Lee’s The Raven Stratagem, a Best Novel Finalist in this year’s Hugos, and The Expanse series by James S A Corey. The New Space Opera has also been invading Young Adult books with such novels as Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff, the 2015 Aurealis Award Best SF novel winner.
Of course, for writers, identifying trends isn’t much more than the first step. The crucial question is to what extent (if at all) should a writer take these trends into account. That’s something to explore another time.
This blog appeared in a different form as an Editorial in Aurealis #113.